Politicians playing with the truth in governor’s race

Published 7:07 pm Monday, July 8, 2019


Guest columnist

People and politicians have always wanted their own versions of the truth, facts and science be damned, but the modern media environment has made it easier to do that — and to fool others into mistaken belief.

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Witness the Kentucky governor’s race.

When Attorney General Andy Beshear, who is the antithesis of nimble, went off-script June 26 and called his Democratic candidacy “an opportunity … to stop the negative policies of Donald Trump,” his campaign denied he had said it. Perhaps someone feared Beshear had gone too far in this Trump-favoring state, and he had; the Republican Governors Association quickly put up an attack ad.

Of course, the RGA took it too far, saying Beshear “joined the radical resistance” (much more liberal Democrats are pictured) after Hillary Clinton lost to Trump in 2016, “repeatedly suing to stop Trump’s agenda.” Actually, his anti-Trump lawsuits have been about saving the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), which has given half a million Kentuckians health care.

Republican Gov. Matt Bevin and his running mate for lieutenant governor, state Sen. Ralph Alvarado, are also finagling with the facts.

Bevin’s latest media message is a rap video about U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine, who was Clinton’s running mate and is supporting Beshear. It includes a video clip of Clinton’s infamous prediction that her energy policy would “put a lot of coal miners and coal companies out of business. Right, Tim?”

That Tim surely wasn’t Kaine, because Clinton was speaking in Ohio in March 2016, more than four months before she picked the Virginia senator. But Bevin says, “Yeah, that’s him, Tim Kaine …”

On a more substantive note: In his first joint appearance with Beshear, on June 28, Bevin turned to his foe and said, “These lies about things that I’ve supposedly said is absolute rubbish, and you know it.” He was alluding to his frequent criticism of teachers, then played a word-parsing game about only one example to make his case to a friendly audience of fiscal-court members from all over the state.

“Every one of you has heard somebody say that I’ve called people thugs, I’ve said this about teachers or what have you; nonsense,” Bevin said, repeating his challenge to pay $1,000 to anyone who finds “any audio or video evidence whatsoever, ever, of me having said that. It’s never happened. Ever. It’s a lie, it’s perpetuated by people who want to tell you stuff to get into this seat.” He added 30 words later, “I was raised to tell people the truth.”

Bevin used the word “thug” to describe teachers’ actions last year in opposing a pension-reform bill sponsored by then-Sen. Joe Bowen of Owensboro.

Noting that they booed Bowen during debate and picketed his business, Bevin said, “That’s the kind of thug mentality that’s being dealt with.” So, while Bevin didn’t literally call teachers “thugs,” as Beshear has asserted, he said they were acting like thugs. It’s almost a distinction without a difference, but just enough on which to hang a denial.

I suspect Bevin spent 150 words doing that to sow doubt around the state about the more damaging remark he made about teachers who staged a sickout to protest at the Capitol: “I guarantee you somewhere in Kentucky today, a child was sexually assaulted that was left at home because there was nobody there to watch them. I guarantee you somewhere today, a child was physically harmed or ingested poison because they were left alone because a single parent didn’t have any money to take care of them.” He offered no proof, and no such incidents were reported.

In creating their own truths, some politicians have trouble with facts; others ignore science.

You wouldn’t expect that from a physician, but Alvarado, a Winchester pediatrician, said June 27 that states shouldn’t require children to be vaccinated for contagious diseases: “I think it’s good health policy to administer vaccines, but if people don’t want them, we shouldn’t force people to take them.”

Alvarado was replying to a question from Bill Kunkel, whose son was kept out of school by the Northern Kentucky Health Department because he hadn’t been immunized to chickenpox. The question came in a meeting of the Tea Party, some members of which have objected to Bevin replacing Lt. Gov. Jenean Hampton with Alvarado.

Alvarado told Kunkel that doctors must honor their patients’ wishes, “and that’s how I would approach it. Your case, the kid’s case, has become famous, but I think it was wrong; they shouldn’t have held him out” of school.

But if you’re running for lieutenant governor, patients’ wishes aren’t the issue. It’s whether states should require vaccinations for the sake of “herd immunity,” which occurs when enough people in a population have been immunized against a disease to protect others who are not immunized. Some people aren’t vaccinated because they are too young or their immune systems are too weak to allow them to be vaccinated, and skepticism of vaccines has led to disease outbreaks.

Alvarado knows that, but he dismissed science and the facts to pander to people whose support he and Bevin need. It’s not a good look for a physician, or even for a politician.

Al Cross (Twitter @ruralj) is a professor in the University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Media and director of its Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues. His opinions are his own, not UK’s.